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Excitement mounts over first-ever ‘public’ Hospices de Beaune

With less than a week to go before the first ever ‘public’ Hospices de Beaune, there is mounting excitement around the ancient auction.

This year, as reported on decanter.com in September, a century and a half of tradition is to be swept aside as Christie’s takes over the running of the Burgundy barrel auctions.

The auction takes place this weekend, and for the first time since it started in 1859, private buyers will be able to bid directly, when previously the only way they could buy would be to contact a negociant and instruct them to bid.

And Burgundy enthusiasts from around the globe are putting bidding rings together in order to take advantage of the new regime.

Activity on the bulletin board of Robert Parker’s website erobertparker.com is feverish, with deskbound oenophiles planning how best to bid.

Telephone lines will be open during the auction, Anthony Hanson of Christie’s wine department said.

Hanson expects prices to be at least 15% higher than last year, with the proviso that prices dropped last year by 29% on the previous year.

So that will still mean top-end Burgundy can be had for a fraction of the price it would command on the open market: Hanson cited the example of a barrel of Pommard Billardet, which sold last year for €3,536.

There are 288 bottles in a barrel, which, when elevage, packaging, and all other extras are paid works out at around €21 per bottle, before tax.

Hanson sounded a note of caution: ‘But you’ll be lucky if the best cuvees go up by only 15%, as 2005 is a really excellent year – people are comparing it with the best vintages they have ever known.’

After the sale, Christie’s and the Hospices will advise the purchaser on where to age and bottle the wine. As in the past, storing and bottling must take place within Burgundy.

Despite the excitement amongst Burgundy fans, visitors to Beaune might be forgiven for thinking not much has changed, however.

Speaking from the sleepy Burgundy town today, Jasper Morris MW conceded that Burgundians were very pleased Christie’s had taken over as the auction ‘needed a shot in the arm.’

But he added, ‘This isn’t a revolution. It’s a slight moderation in the running of the Hospices. It won’t seem any different at all.’

Buyers should ring Christie’s Paris on 00 44 33 1 40 76 85 85 to get advice and place telephone bids. They can also log on to www.christies.com for tasting notes of all the cuvees to be auctioned.

Written by AdamLechmere

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